Sunday, September 25, 2011

A mind full of new things

I survived my first week at my new job. It's going pretty well so far, but the nature of the work is such that I'll have little weekday daytime internet access. So I won't be spending as much time in the Twitterverse and blogosphere as I've been used to doing.

I'm also in deep research mode for my 2012 novel. For reasons that would take too long to go into here, my editor asked me to change my hero's background from service in India and then in the Peninsular War to the War of 1812. Which is fine, except for the tiny obstacle that until the last ten days or so ago I knew next to nothing about the conflict in question. Seriously, if you'd asked me what I knew about it, I would've said something along the lines of, "I think it was mostly about impressment of American citizens into the British navy. Oh, and Francis Scott Key wrote 'The Star-Spangled Banner' while watching the bombardment of Fort McHenry, the British burned the White House, and Andrew Jackson won the Battle of New Orleans, which was fought after the peace treaty was signed, only of course no one could've known because there hadn't been enough time for the news to cross the Atlantic." In other words, not nearly enough to give my hero a proper backstory.

Why, you may ask, do I know so much about the Napoleonic Wars and next to nothing about a war my own country actually fought in? Well, my dirty little secret is I started researching the military side of the era because I had a crush on this guy:

And the more I researched, the more I became an admirer of this genteman:

...neither of whom were at all involved in the War of 1812. Though the government did ask Wellington if he'd go in late 1814. He said, basically, that he had no objections to going, but he'd like to wait till spring in hopes of finishing business at the Congress of Vienna, and, besides, unless the British could reestablish naval superiority in the Great Lakes, another general and more soldiers wouldn't help all that much. There's probably a counterfactual or two to be had there--what if Wellington had been in command of the British forces at New Orleans? No WAY would he have attacked such a well-chosen and well-defended position. Half of Wellington's considerable battlefield genius was choosing his ground well, whether on offense or defense, and only giving battle when his forces were in a position to prevail. If Andrew Jackson never got the prestige he garnered at New Orleans, it's doubtful he would've been elected president, and American history would be much different. And if Wellington hadn't been at Waterloo, I still don't think Napoleon would've gotten to keep his throne--Europe was too united against him--but he probably would've lasted longer, and the different manner of his defeat would've reshaped European history.

So, yeah. You can probably already tell that, ten days of researching in, I've become fascinated by the War of 1812 in spite of myself. It really ought to be taught more thoroughly in schools--that bit I'd learned about American sailors getting impressed into the Royal Navy is a GROSS oversimplification of the causes of the war. It's really appalling how the then-ruling Democratic-Republican Party maneuvered the US into the war despite being ill-prepared for it, suppressed dissent, and somehow came out even MORE powerful and claiming victory despite the fact we were lucky to escape with a draw. I'm still no admirer of Andrew Jackson.

Mr. Fraser and therefore Miss Fraser are members of the Cherokee Nation, so Jackson was no friend of my family's ancestors. Of course, I'm definitely a Scots-Irish Southerner and almost certainly part Creek history is complicated. But when I think Jackson, I think Indian Removal and the Trail of Tears first.

I was quickly reminded that Tecumseh was also involved in the War of 1812, though, and I think my hero is going to meet him. Because Tecumseh was AWESOME.

I'm such a research geek. But it's so FUN.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Busy busy busy!

I've been quieter than usual both on this blog and online in general for the past week because I'm changing day jobs. My new job starts Monday. And I have a completely illogical superstition that if I ever have a wholly clean desk other than on my first or last day at a job, that job will disappear. Totally illogical--but so far I and my sloppy desks have avoided layoffs and downsizing, so why fix what ain't broke, you know? It couldn't be a combination of luck and skill; it's all down to the piles of paper and the inbox nowhere near zero! But as a result my last few days in a job are always a mad scramble to tie off loose ends and get paperwork properly filed. Lots of working late and coming home tired, very little blogging and tweeting. So I'll be back once I'm settled into my new job.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

What I've been reading lately

My library's summer reading challenge is over, but of course that doesn't mean I'll stop reading (though I probably won't try as hard as I did during the challenge to never read two books from the same genre in the same week, because sometimes I get in a mood where I only want nonfiction, or where nothing hits the spot like reading six trad Regencies in a row).

Anyway, here's my reading from the last week or so:

1) Rules of Attraction, by Simone Elkeles
Genre: YA romance

A sequel to 2010's Perfect Chemistry, also featuring a Mexican hero with gang ties he'd like to break and a privileged white girl heroine. A quick, page-turning read, and I liked how the hero and heroine sort of unpacked each other's protective layers to find the real person underneath.

2) You Are What You Speak, by Robert Lane Greene
Genre: Nonfiction (linguistics/history/current events)

I'll always pick up a book on linguistics, and I found this book especially interesting in discussing how language interacts with political identity, social class, and the like.

3) In the Garden of Beasts, by Erik Larson
Genre: Nonfiction (history)

Larson looks at Nazi Germany before WWII through the eyes of the American ambassador at the time (a history professor with no previous diplomatic experience) and his family. Reading it, I was for the first time able to do something with 1930's Germany I've been able to do fairly easily for other places and times--put myself in the place of people living through it who had no idea how it would turn out.

4) The Olympic Games: The First Thousand Years, by MI Finley & HW Pleket
Genre: Nonfiction (ancient history)

I've been renewing my interest in classical Greek history of late, hence this book. I liked it, but it'd be a bit dry for someone just starting to explore the period. If that's you, I'd suggest The Naked Olympics if you're interested in the early Games, or Persian Fire for the Greco-Persian Wars, or Lords of the Sea for the rise and fall of Athens.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Happy New Year!

What's that you say? It's not New Year's Day on any calendar that you know of? Sure it is! It's Miss Fraser's first day of school (she's in second grade now, and I have no idea who took my adorable baby girl and replaced her with this tall, skinny, leggy, but still adorable kid). And as long as I have a kid in school and work at a university for my day job, early September is going to feel at least as much like the start of a new year as the official version in January.

I'm even doing some small, informal resolutions. We just replaced my computer that was stolen in the break-in, and now that I have a new computer and a new contract from Carina, along with a greatly improved pinched nerve, it's time to step up my writing pace accordingly. And I figure if I start back on Weight Watchers today, that gives me almost two months until the Emerald City Writers Conference, where I'll see people who last saw me at RWA in New York. Maybe that's time enough for them to say, "Wow, Susanna, have you lost weight?" And I'm not due for my annual physical till January. Surely four months of Weight Watchers, even with mini-breaks for Thanksgiving and Christmas, is time enough to move the scale a bit and make my doctor happy.

What about you? Is September a new year for you, formally or otherwise? Any fall resolutions?

Monday, September 5, 2011

Labor Day Weekend Cooking

My mother-in-law flew out from Oklahoma to visit us and see our new house for the first time, so I've been off from the day job since Thursday and don't go back till Wednesday. It's been wonderful having her here, and such a relaxing week. Usually when I use vacation time, it's to go somewhere. That won't change--I love to travel for its own sake, and I've got family to visit and conferences to go to on top of that. But I have to say, it's nice to have six full days to wake up and neither be in a hotel or spare room nor have to scramble to get myself out the door for work.

I haven't been doing much cooking, either. We've gone out--last night Mr. Fraser and I celebrated our 12th wedding anniversary at Cafe Juanita, and Miss Fraser insisted we take Grandma to Blue C Sushi, where the food comes on conveyor belts. Also, my mother-in-law made chicken fried steak, as she always does when she visits (SO delicious), and Mr. F grilled steaks one evening.

But yesterday for lunch I decided it was my turn. We had leftover mashed potatoes from the chicken fried steak dinner, so I made them into patties, dipped them in panko, and fried them over very low heat in butter. The potatoes were a little soupier than ideal for such a preparation, so they tended to break apart, but they tasted great, especially with sour cream on top (and bacon and fresh pineapple alongside). Next time I think I'll add some flour for thickening, or maybe just use less butter and milk in the mashers to begin with. I like to make them with roasted garlic, which gives them plenty of flavor even without gobs of dairy.

Then for dessert I made the S'mores Stuffed Brownies that Angela James tweeted about on Saturday. They turned out scrumptious and rich, though I think next time I'll leave out the Hershey Bar--there's plenty of chocolate from the brownie batter without it, and the Hershey Bar re-solidifies as it cools and doesn't add to the flavor and texture the way the graham cracker and marshmallows do.